Artwork of the Week: March 29, 2021
Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665), Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist, c.1650, etching, 10 5/16 x 8 7/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
In Honor of Women’s History Month
Elisabetta Sirani created the Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist around 1660, one of ten etchings she completed during her remarkable career. Elisabetta trained as an artist under her father, painter Giovanni Andrea Sirani. When his health declined in 1654, sixteen-year-old Elisabetta took over as the breadwinner, supporting her family with her art. At a time when female artists were expected to work only in portraiture, Sirani specialized in subjects of historical and religious significance such as Portia, Cleopatra, and Judith. She founded an academy for female artists, the first such school in Europe outside of a convent, where she trained numerous artists. Elisabetta died suddenly at the age of 27. Though cut short, Sirani had a prolific career, completing roughly 200 paintings.
This etching demonstrates Elisabetta’s interest in naturalism and female kinship. She shows the Holy Family in an everyday moment. Mary tenderly nurses the Holy Child, as she also dangles a toy in front of the young John the Baptist who plays at her feet. The aged Elizabeth, John’s mother, winds swaddling cloth next to her, as Joseph chops wood in the background. The scene conveys a familiar sense of domestic comfort and contentment.